Given the rising number of people staying in digs, Elizabeth O’Malley takes a look at how to cover yourself legally if you’re renting a room
There are plenty of reasons to choose  rent a room accommodation, or ‘digs’. It’s cheaper than renting on the private market.
 
They’re often closer to campus. Meals are generally provided. Maybe it was your only option as everything else had been snapped up earlier. 
 
As well as figuring out where your new classes are and doing the required reading, protecting yourself legally should be on your to do list at the beginning of an academic year. 
 
When you are renting on the private market you are often asked to sign a rental contract.
 
If you’ve been living somewhere for longer than six months then certain legal protections kick in even if there is no contract in place.  
 
For example, you must be given a certain amount of notice and you can only have your tenancy ended for specific reasons. These include not paying rent or if the landlord plans on selling the property. 
 
However, when you rent a room in your landlord’s home you are not covered by this legislation. If you don’t have a contract you can legally be evicted at any time without notice. You can receive random rent increases.
 
The lodging does not have to meet any minimum physical standards. 
 
If your landlord does not offer you a contract when you first arrive it is suggested that you put something in writing setting out basic terms. 
 
How long are you going to reside there? How much rent is to be paid and when? How is the rent to be paid (e.g. cash, standing order)? Does this include utilities and meals? How much notice will you give each other if you want to end the agreement?  
 
It may also be helpful to specify certain things.
 
For example, when renting on the private market a landlord must return a safety deposit unless there is damage beyond normal wear and tear.
 
They must also return whatever money is leftover after any repairs or cleaning has been carried out.
 
It is uncertain under a rent a room agreement whether you forfeit your whole deposit if there is damage. 
 
You can also include other things if you want, like whether you can have guests to stay. 
 
Type up an agreement and give it to the landlord to look over to see if they require any changes.
 
If these changes are reasonable you should update the agreement and both sign it.
 
It is even better if you can get someone to witness you signing the agreement (a third party signs to confirm that those are your true signatures) as this carries more legal weight. 
 
If your landlord breaks the agreement the next step is to bring them to the Small Claims Court, which is for cases where the damages are below €2,000. You do not need a lawyer to go to this Court.
 
You can download the application form online from their website. 
 
Hopefully you will never need to do this, but it is better to be safe than sorry. 
 
If you have any other queries about rent a room accommodation or other types of accommodation you should contact your local Consumer Information Centre (CIC), Threshold (the housing charity), or lo-call the Free Legal Advice Centres information line at 1890 350 250. 
 
Photo: Herman Yung/Flickr